I recently spoke with Elisa Zied, dietitian and author of the new book, Younger Next Week, about food cravings. We all have them and they can be such a struggle! Here are five psychological ways to deal with even the most intense cravings.
1). Use your mind to curb a craving.
When a craving hits, imagine yourself engaging in a favorite activity. A study in the journal Appetite (2011) found that replacing a donut in your mind with an image of a favorite activity like dancing, hiking or watching a movie and employing all your senses -- the shapes, sounds and colors associated with that activity -- may be an effective way to reduce the intensity of a craving.
A 2012 study found that smelling jasmine (a non-food odor) reduced chocolate cravings, so this suggests that smelling something that doesn't remind you of, or is similar to food, may help you reduce cravings, at least for chocolate. A more recent study found that smelling a neutral odor diminished cravings for highly craved items as well as chocolate.
3). Just Chew It!
There's evidence that chewing gum can help squelch food cravings. In a study published in Appetite (2011), researchers asked 60 subjects to rate their hunger, appetite and cravings for sweet and salty snacks for three hours after they ate lunch. The researchers found that when the subjects chewed gum during the three hours, they ate 10 percent less of a snack than when they didn't chew gum. The researchers concluded that chewing gum for at least 45 minutes promoted fullness and significantly suppressed hunger, appetite and cravings for snacks.
4. Get your sleep!
Studies suggest (not that we didn't already know this) that not getting enough sleep/being sleep deprived makes us hungrier and crave high-calorie, nutrient-poor food. So making sure to get enough sleep on weekdays and weekends as often as possible can reduce cravings induced by or exacerbated by sleep deprivation.
5. Walk this way.
A new study in Appetite suggests that a short bout of exercise (eg a 15-minute walk) can reduce chocolate cravings. A previous study in Appetite (2012) showed that a brief walk (15 minutes) reduced ad-lib snacking on chocolate in regular chocolate eaters. Bottom line? Exercise has so many health benefits, so when you get a craving, especially when you're not hungry, a brisk walk may be all you need to let it pass.
Learn more about Elisa Zied at www.elisazied.com.
Dr. Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of the new book, EatQ (HaperOne, 2013), Eating Mindfully, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. She is frequently quoted in Shape, Fitness, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc., and has been a guest on the Dr. Oz show. Visit her on www.facebook.com/eatdrinkmindful.